Mojo’q che b’ixan ri ixkanulab’ / Antes de que los volcanes canten / Before the Volcanoes Sing
Commissioned and produced by EMPAC, Mojo’q che b’ixan ri ixkanulab’ / Antes de que los volcanes canten / Before the Volcanoes Sing undertakes a richly sensory journey across moments, languages, and music, roaming through architectural spaces that are variously imagined and real, cosmological and colonized. The film centers on the capacity of Maya cultural belongings, and wind instruments in particular, to give voice to Indigenous systems of knowledge. Grappling with the history of Western architects using Indigenous motifs without significant reference to or engagement with their source, the film works to restore these absent sounds, utilizing 3D-printed replicas of Maya wind instruments held behind glass in Pre-Columbian museum collections.
Told through the personal histories of its Maya protagonists, K’iche ’Kaqchiquel poet Rosa Chávez leads us through her Guatemalan community’s vernacular architectures. Through poetry and conversation, she traces a densely interwoven set of practices that have long articulated and preserved systematic understandings of time, language, and cosmology across cultural forms, ranging from ancient temples to systems of healing, and from weaving techniques whose patterns encode complex information to the physical structure of the traditional ‘temazcal’ steam room. As if in echo, the film follows Ixil Maya artist Tohil Fidel Brito Bernal inside the “Mayan Revival” Sowden House in Los Angeles, as he works on his rigorously researched drafts of ancient Maya glyphs and calendars while surrounded by sculptural copies of the same motifs appropriated by the architect Lloyd Wright.
The poetry and artwork of Chávez and Brito Bernal is interwoven by spirited performances of the instruments by Mexican flautist Alethia Lozano Birrueta. From tiny bird ocarinas to flutes that sculpturally represent monkey, jaguar, and other deities of Maya mythology, each breath activates layers of music that expand the slippery temporalities of the film’s themes and which are heightened further through the film’s kaleidoscopic visual effects. Premiering in EMPAC’s Concert Hall, where several of Birrueta’s performances were recorded, Before the Volcanoes Sing seeks to reclaim space for Indigenous traditions in the present. Projected onto the undulating surface of the acoustically ornamented curtain wall, the film’s score and sound design by composer Michelle Agnes Magalhães is dramatized through an immersive Ambisonic* array of 64-loudspeakers that surround the audience.
*The moving image work utilizes a "higher-order Ambisonic" spatial audio system that EMPAC has implemented in its venues. Ambisonics is an audio format developed to record, mix, and playback immersive audio that surrounds the audience in a much more precise way than traditional “surround sound.” The listeners in the Concert Hall are surrounded by more than 60 loudspeakers distributed across the wall and ceiling surfaces, each contributing to the soundfield with their own audio channel.
Dates + Tickets
EMPAC Fall 2022
Performed by Rosa Chávez, Tohil Fidel Brito Bernal, and Alethia Lozano Birrueta
Composed by Michelle Agnes Magalhães
Cinematography by Jeremy Glaholt
3D Scans of instruments by Jared Katz
Curatorial and Research Assistance by Mariana Fernández
Commissioned by EMPAC / Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and supported by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Graham Foundation, New York State Council for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.